Tucked away in the streets of the Brera district, the Basilica of San Simpliciano stands in an elegant cobbled piazza accessible from the nearby bustling Corso Garibaldi. The adjacent Piazza Paolo VI, to the right of the edifice, is an ideal place for a tranquil pause outdoors.
San Simpliciano is one of the earliest churches constructed in Milano. It is the last of the four basilicas that Sant’Ambrogio sought to build in the peripheral areas of the city: as for the previous three structures he chose a cemetery location, in this instance it was along the road to Como in an area frequented by prostitutes so he named it "Basilica Virginum" (dedicated to the virgins). It was completed by his successor San Simpliciano whose wish, upon his demise in 401, was to be buried there and, consequentially, the basilica took his name.
Today, the brick facade evokes the typical Romanesque architecture of the city.
Inside the church, a small door to the left of the apse leads to the 5th century chapel of San Simpliciano where the remains of the martyrs Sisinio, Martirio and Alessandro are conserved. Impelled by their missionary principles they were sent to evangelize the region of Anaunia, now known as the Valle di Non, where they were tragically martyred.
A popular legend is linked to these three saints. The people of Lombardy attribute the victory of Legnano in 1176 to the intercession of the Holy Martyrs. It is said that on the day of the battle between the militia of the medieval alliance Lombard League and that of Barbarossa, three doves flew from the church of San Simpliciano, where the vestiges of the saints were conserved, and came to rest on the cross of the Carroccio (war altar) where they remained until the end of the battle.
Secreted to the side of the Basilica stands the former convent of San Simpliciano, now the headquarters of the Theological Faculty of Northern Italy.
According to an ancient anecdote the bells of San Simpliciano possessed exceptional healing powers. To rid himself of a terrible toothache, a merchant from Porta Comasina obtained permission from the bell ringer to play the bells by pulling the rope with his teeth. The good news was that that his toothache vanished but the bad news was that he suffered a terrible blow to his head on the ceiling.